NASA Pushes Back Mars Perseverance Rover, James Webb Telescope Launch Again

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NASA has reported that the completion of two major projects was delayed. According to the department, the delays were caused by a technical problem and the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

NASA announced earlier this week that it’s decided to delay the launch of its new Mars Perseverance Rover. Aside from the rover, the agency also noted that the scheduled launch of the James Webb Space Telescope had been canceled.

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Perseverance was initially scheduled to begin on July 17. However, Tony Bruno, United Launch Alliance (ULA) CEO, noted on Twitter that the Atlas V launch rocket at the company was experiencing a problem with the crane.

Although the technical issue had already been resolved, NASA postponed the launch of Perseverance to provide adequate time for the teams involved in the mission to prepare for the event. As NASA has noted, the new launch schedule for the mission is set for July 20.

“NASA and ULA are now targeting Monday, July 20, for the launch of the Mars 2020 mission of the Perseverance Rover on an Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida,” NASA said in a statement.

In addition to the rover, NASA has also agreed to delay the launch of another big project, the James Webb Space Telescope. However, unlike the Perseverance mission, the agency has not set a new start date for the space telescope.

The James Webb Space Telescope had been designed to serve as the Hubble Space Telescope’s official successor. NASA had initially been targeted March 2021 as the space-based observatory’s potential launch window. Unfortunately, NASA was forced to delay project launch due to the effects of the coronavirus on the agency.

Since 1989, JWST has been under development in some form, and its launch was planned in 2007. That date was pushed back more than a dozen times, and now the official start date is March 2021.

According to Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate administrator, the current outbreak has significantly impacted NASA’s operations regarding space telescope production. Apart from reducing working hours, NASA’s workforce has also been hit by positive COVID-19 cases.

“We will not launch in March; that is not in the cards right now,” Zurbuchen said during a recent meeting of the Space Studies Board and Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board, according to Space.com. 

Zurbuchen said the pandemic and the resulting shutdowns made it challenging to keep the whole number of shifts employed on the telescope wholly staffed. As a result, time was lost.

“Not everyone was available; we had positive cases here and there,” he added. He said the situation is not anyone’s fault or mismanagement.

ALSO READ: 2 NASA Employees at Marshall Center Test Positive For Coronavirus: Is the $400 Billion Space Industry in Peril?

NASA and Northrop Grumman, the primary contractor behind JWST construction, are reviewing the schedule and are hoping to set a new start date by the end of July. Zurbuchen said he’s still hopeful that at some point in 2021, a launch will happen.

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